Fair warning, this list is as touristy as it gets, but when it’s your first time visiting Beijing, you do the touristy stuff first and get lost in the history!
I never realized quite how much history, China hides. It’s as if it’s a treasure chest, full of the most amazing sights, sounds and tastes. It’s a truly ancient country that has spawned countless fairy tales, superstitions and traditions, and Beijing is where it all started. From the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven, the Hutong alleys to the modern side of technology, wealth and luxury, Beijing is the perfect juxtaposition of old and new, modern and tradition.
For two weeks we explored sights, hunted for authentic Chinese food and trekked the Great Wall. Here is a list of our favorite stops and all the to-dos that are a must. Fair warning, this list is about as touristy as it gets, but hey when it’s your first time visiting Beijing, you do the touristy stuff first! We can’t wait to come back and uncover the hidden gems.
Explore the Forbidden City
Sitting right in the center of Beijing, surrounded by skyscrapers and modern buildings is The Forbidden City, a place slightly reminiscent of a time long gone. What once was the Chinese Imperial Palace from 1420 to 1912, is now one of the most visited places in Beijing. The best time to visit is in the morning, so you can avoid the crowds.
Hike The Great Wall...and be The Only Tourist
A trip to Beijing is not complete without seeing the Great Wall of China, and the best way to do it is by hiking a remote area, completely void of other tourists. During our stay at the Four Seasons, the concierge team booked us a private guided tour and it was the highlight of our trip. Researching these types of tours is tough as there aren't many English websites available yet, so trust the concierges at your hotel and let them help you out.
Take a Walk Around Houhai Lake
We visited Beijing in February so the lake was converted into a ice skating rink and full of families attempting to skate. Ice skating isn’t really our thing, so instead we wandered around the narrow streets and tried countless snacks served from the various stalls, and ducked into the long winding alley surrounded by historic Chinese architecture.
Bell & Drum Tower
If you’re visiting the Hutong alleys or Houhai lake, the bell and drum towers are really close. You can play a few yen to enter the towers and you’ll be rewarded with views of Beijing and of the Forbidden City.
Wander Around the Hutong Alleys
The Beijing Hutongs (old lanes) have a very special place in the rich history and culture of Beijing. They give a glimpse into the old way of life and traditional Beijing culture. Although much of the area has been converted into eateries and gift shops, it’s a great area to stroll around and find some good street food!
Induldge in Gourmet Chinese food
Chinese food is not cheap take out, that you order to cure a hangover. It’s elegant, simple and incredibly flavorful. So when you visit Beijing, spend one night dining at an elegant Chinese restaurant, where you’ll taste traditional dishes with a modern makeover and service is the best you'll ever receive. Our favorite is Cai Yi Xuan, located inside the Four Seasons.
Spend an Afternoon in the 798 Art District
This is the hipster side of Beijing, and totally worth spending some time here! The 798 district is a few blocks of fantastic street art, museums and shops full of curios. This is a great way to see the modern culture of Beijing and to see what all the cool kids are up to.
Visit The Olympic Village
I was so excited to visit the Olympic Stadium, that even though it truthfully sucked, I was still glad we went. The bird's nest and the water cube lights up at night, yet the abundance of revolving advertisements projected on the features, makes it a bit lackluster. Nevertheless the architecture is great and the best time to visit is at night or sunset, so you can see the light show.
Eat Roasted Duck
If you like duck (and even if you don’t) you have to try Peking duck in Beijing. The simplicity in which it is often served, hides the complex preparation methods, yet the taste is truly mouth watering. Our favorite place to get it was at Jing Yaa Tang inside the Opposite House Hotel. Definitely worth a trip, even if you aren't staying at the hotel!